In the "Goosebumps" movie, Black actually plays the author of the original books, R.L. Stine. The basic plot, as outlined in the first trailer that we were shown, is that all of the creepy monsters and ghouls that populate his beloved novels (novels that typified the YA craze before there was even a YA craze). Honestly, it seems like the perfect way to adapt the books -- instead of doing a 1:1 translation, it's a loose amalgamation that allowed the filmmakers (led by director Rob Letterman, a former animator responsible for "Monsters vs. Aliens," among others) to have the most flexibility (and fun) with the concept. And the movie is obviously having a blast with the idea of Stine, instead of being the fairly straight-laced old white guy that he is, being this egotistical master of the macabre. One great exchange has one of the kids who goes on this adventure asking Black why he didn't just write about cuddlier stuff. "Because that doesn't sell 400 million copies," Black-as-Stine replies. "Domestic?" another one of the kids asks. "No, worldwide. But it's still really impressive," Black shoots back. We just love publishing gags in kids movies.
At the Comic-Con panel, Black and Letterman discussed the movie (and it's sky-high concept). Black initially said that they weren't going to do the movie unless Stine signed off on it (and, of course, Black's interpretation). "We didn't want to do it without his consent," Black said. "He was super stoked about it and a very sweet guy and I told him, 'I'm going to play you in the movie but I can't play you like you are. I need him to be a little more sinister.' And he was cool with it. He totally gets it. Don't be like, 'You don't look and sound like him, Jack.'"
One of the main questions -- lobbed at the duo by both the moderator and several attendees -- was about the movie's tone. The trailer gives off the vibe of an early "Steven Spielberg presents" movie or maybe even "Beetlejuice" -- one that is intense but still lighthearted. Which is something that Letterman also noted. "Well the tone is tricky but the books themselves are legitimately scary and legitimately funny and we tried to capture that," Letterman explained. "And Jack is a huge help in navigating that tone."
When asked about the creatures in the movie (which are super impressive; they later came out on stage), Letterman said they had employed Neville Page, the world-renowned designer and monster maker that had worked on "Cloverfield," "Avatar" and "Prometheus," and that the effects would be a combination of old-school puppets and more advanced computer graphics. "We spent six months meticulously designing the monsters. Some of the monsters are pure CGI, some of them are hybrids of full creature suits and visual effects and some of them are all monster make-ups." Then Black added: "Some of them are real monsters."
For Black, though, the appeal to the "Goosebumps" books, even though he hasn't read many (if any) of them, is how short they are. "I love the Goosebumps books because you can blast through them in 45 minutes. I should have read all 58 of them. Give me time."
What became very clear from the audience Q&A section of the panel was that people take "Goosebumps" very, very seriously. Even if the books are light and airy, they seem to have hit people at a certain age really powerfully. These were books that a whole generation had grown up on, learning their tastes in both horror and comedy while churning through each flimsy paperback. And the sensation you got -- from both Letterman and Black and by watching the trailer -- was that the people behind the movie take that love and respect it greatly. "Goosebumps," when it comes out next year, will make your skin crawl. In the best possible way.
"Goosebumps" spooks its way into theaters August 7, 2015.
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